by Linda M. Richards*

My latest blog entry has been delayed due to theft! But before you read on, wondering, what does this have to do with the history of science, please keep in mind one of the greatest scientists of our time, Linus Pauling, believed that the structure of molecules and society determined behavior.

I have had trouble with my left foot since the one time I tried to be a hero. I worked my senior high school summer at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Napa Valley, California as a camp counselor.  One day, I was walking nearby the horse stalls when one of the horses started bucking with one of the blind campers on its back. In the nick of time, I grabbed the horse, the reins, and the camper, preventing disaster, but in exchange, my bare foot was smashed by the horse’s hoof.

Ever since, finding shoes I can walk in has been a challenge, and the shoes I brought to Europe have became excruciating to wear. This morning while I was doing my laundry, I jumped the tram and rode back to downtown where I had seen a cheaper shoe store to try on a pair and voila! While I was walking about testing my toes’ response to the sexy heels, my big, clunky purse walked off! Inside was my precious I-phone with 583 photos that had not been yet been put in the drop box to be saved, my apartment key, my eyeglasses, my favorite running jacket, my credit cards, and $100 in Swiss Francs.

I have listed my losses in the order of their importance.

I had been so pleased with the work I had done in the WHO archives. I was just so crushed, almost to fainting, to lose those photos. Working in an archive for me feels the same as painting or even dancing; it is almost its own unique work of art.

But waiting in the police station, others came in with black eyes and losses far beyond my own.

After I lost my I-phone I thought about the Tibetan Buddhist monks who create the most intricate and beautiful sand paintings with their prayers, and then, when it is finished, blow the sand away like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake to make a wish.

Of course I will go back on Monday and ask the patient archivist for the same books and documents again, but it will never be the same. The kind archivist even has a camera I can use, but I know that my work on Thursday and Friday will forever be only be a wish blown away like a dandelion or a monk’s prayer.

Apparently as they explained to me in French at the Police station near the store, purse-and-I-phone snatching is very common in Geneva, a city so full of so much wealth in the downtown window displays, from the amazing dresses to the Chanel stores to the Sotheby’s to the jewels, but there is also painful poverty around the city and intruding in the wealthy downtown.

It seems like it would be a terrible place to live if you were struggling or poor. Geneva is also where I have seen the most expensive organic apple yet ($6.20). I did not buy it, but it certainly made an impression on me as did the few, but very neglected homeless here. I also learned there are no shelters because I asked the police if there would be anywhere safe I could sleep indoors if I could not get into my apartment, as my key was in my wallet, too. Luckily, the woman I am renting from had hid an extra key outside.

Even getting my purse stolen was lucky because it made me remember what is important. It also made me more determined than ever to see a world free of nuclear weapons where everyone’s needs are met. That must be the wish of my irretrievable work.

There are more than enough resources to feed and educate everyone on this planet, but we lack the will to divert the spending, for example, from “modernizing” nuclear weapons. While the actual numbers of nuclear weapons are decreasing, modernization makes each nuclear weapon even more powerful than in the past in terms of kiloton power and target accuracy. This process is projected to divert $100 billion dollars worldwide from human needs in the next ten years as the Nuclear Weapons States (or as activists like to call them, Non Nuclear Weapons Free States) modernize their nuclear weapons arsenals.

I am still reeling from the weight of the NPT Prep Com that clearly showed the technocratic domination of not only nuclear history but also a limited view point on problem solving that excludes indigenous people. However, I was heartened by all the efforts of government representatives and NGOs to make the NPT agreement to reduce nuclear weapons to zero a reality. Yet, it is in this stage, an excruciatingly incremental effort. The NPT and this process is very well explained at  and summaries of the action at the Prep Com are prepared by Reaching Critical Will, a project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, at

While very disturbed by the lack of engagement of the NPT process with indigenous people, I was very pleased I could attend to at least make some noise, if not progress on this issue with several of the larger umbrella NGOs and the US Ambassador, Susan Burk and the American, Norwegian, Iranian, European Union, and the Non Allied Movement delegations.

The NPT ended successfully by most appraisals, but critics charge this is only because the bar for progress had been set intentionally low. NGOs remain critical of the continuance of modernization programs as inconsistent with the legal obligations of the NPT, and while most agree that transparency has improved, there is much more for nuclear weapons states to disclose about their arsenals to aid the disarmament effort. NGOs in general are discouraged by the lack of teeth in the NPT, and know its origins were in the effort by both the USSR and USA to maintain hegemony during the Cold War, so as an instrument; it may be already too compromised to reach the goals of a world free of nuclear weapons. Without progress it could become perhaps irrelevant to the task of complete disarmament. This is why many of the Nuclear Weapons Free Countries and NGOs are calling for a Nuclear Weapons Convention to ban all such weapons.

Before leaving the IAEA, I had a tour of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Office or CTBTO. It was fascinating to see the command center for verifying nuclear weapons explosions, and at this point, the CTBO is able to detect any explosion underground that is even less than 1 kiloton! They are 100% confident that they will know in real time if any country were to ever break any agreements about nuclear testing underwater, underground or in the atmosphere.

These are the kind of verification procedures that make disarmament a more likely possibility, and made me think of how much Linus Pauling would appreciate the success of their work. I could not help but chime in during the history section on nuclear weapons testing during the fallout controversy to talk about Linus Pauling and they were happy to have both the link for our archive at OSU and the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement” to add to their resources.

To learn more about the CTBO and nuclear history in general, they also have a wonderful website of their own that perhaps that our blog could link to:

I am especially impressed with their display of Japanese artist Hashimoto’s graphic display of nuclear testing on their home page and their “infamous nuclear anniversaries” way of telling nuclear history

It was special for me to spend Mother’s Day, which was originally a peace holiday, in Geneva. I saw several of the monuments to Henry Dunant, the original founder of what eventually became the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

My favorite part of Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 “Mothers Day Proclamation” (next to the refrain “Disarm! Disarm!”) is the line “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies…”

In this respect the Red Cross has dedicated itself to humanitarian diplomacy, which is explained on their website: “Humanitarian diplomacy is persuading decision makers and opinion leaders to act, at all times, in the interests of vulnerable people, and with full respect for fundamental humanitarian principles.”

For more info on humanitarian diplomacy see

Geneva also touts itself proudly as the home of Rousseau and Voltaire, and this year, 2012 is being celebrated city wide as the anniversary of Rousseau and his legacy as a humanist.

This history all intersects with the legal human rights aspects of my dissertation and the NPT Prep Com that I just attended in Vienna because in 2011 the Red Cross called for an international effort to disarm nuclear weapons to zero because of their overall humanitarian consequences.For the analysis

I think we feel those consequences in our everyday lives, when we see hunger, poverty, and lack of access to education-some of the things that make you need to steal someone else’s purse.

*Linda M. Richards is pursuing a Ph.D. in History of Science at Oregon State University. She is the one of the recipients of the History of Science program’s University Graduate Laurels Block Grant for 2011-2012.

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4 thoughts on “Theft, Archive Photos, and more thoughts on Nuclear Proliferation

  1. I’m sorry for your loss – I also lost my iPhone (well not really lost because I think someone stole it when I was sleeping in the train) and I can, to some degree, relate to what happened to you. Don’t be so down, I;m sure there’s lots of good things that are yet to happen.

    And thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story – it was a great article and I enjoyed reading it.I’ll bookmark your blog for more of your articles. Keep it up!

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